Friday, May 9, 2014

Which Way Books #10: Invasion of the Black Slime

Last time out the original jewel quest ended in a French shake-down room. For those who keep asking, the shake-down room is where you get, well, shook down. I've decided to take a short break from Choose Your Own Adventure to try a Which Way Book. I actually have a pretty good recollection of this one from my childhood and have wanted to review it for awhile. Yes, I will try to be more industrious with finishing all the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Believe me, I really don't want to be writing a review of "Master of Kung Fu" or "Behind the Wheel" the day before I go before an Obamacare Elderly Death Panel, but I think this short digression is worth it.

Scheduled review date: May, 2071.

Which Way is actually not a cheap knock-off, but the direct lineal descendent from some of the first interactive books, along with Choose Your Own Adventure. It was published by Simon & Schuster (!), had a tie-in with Star Trek and produced numerous other spin-offs. This stuff was serious business back then. Interestingly, Edward Packard's Sugarcane Island, possibly the first book of this kind, was published in this series before being released as a Choose Your Own Adventure book. All right, I think that's enough history for now. You're here for the endless comedic references to Westworld and 1984, not for a detailed dissertation on a subject that no longer holds even the slightest relevance.

Enjoy your nightmares, kids.

This is another horror entry, which as I've noted many times, is the one genre that seems impossible to mess up, even for these books. Why the same generally serious tone, absence of odious "comic" relief, minimal far-left wing political ranting and adequate descriptive prose couldn't be applied to stories about the vast emptiness of space or the evils of rural America remains a mystery. For whatever reason "this must be scary": activates hidden reserves of non-sucking power in writers.

Well, unless that writer is Dean Koontz. 

I'm on a bicycle tour of what appears to be the Rocky Mountains, although a location is never specified. My ten day journey has taken me to the outskirts of a town called "Silverlode." Here I encounter another youth who serves as a plot device to launch the story, admirably fulfilling the expected "It's got a death curse!" warning while also offering up two alternative story lines. The summary is that weird things involving the titular slime are going down in the town. Two people were murdered and no one cared, we are told. Welcome to Detroit's sister city, I guess.

Mr. Plot Dump Jr. is instead going to his Uncle's house, which now serves as a modern version of the Deathtrap Dungeon, offering a Million dollars, which used to be a lot of money, to anyone that can survive its horrors. Yeah, that sounds a lot safer than the town. There's also a doctor who lost his son to a car accident and is probably trying to get all re-animator on that situation, so I could go check that out if people that casually kill each other and Crazy Uncle's House of Death aren't calling out to me.

I decide to go into town anyway, deciding that all this black slime talk is an exaggeration of what's probably a moderately serious incident, at worst. Yeah, there's probably some slime issues and maybe a few people have been body-snatched or whatever, but I came here to see small town America and it's going to happen. The insidious corruption of a small town is just going to have to wait until I take a bunch of selfies while standing in front of the giant rubber band ball and so on.

Everything seems normal enough. I hit a burger joint for some much needed fats and simple sugars and observe no strange behavior. Well, everyone is wearing sunglasses, but I chalk that up to some sort of fad. Yeah, remember that big tinted lenses trend that came and went? It certainly had no staying power. Everyone's into monocles now, or will be by the time you read this, areas of the U.S. that aren't on the coasts.

Keeping track of the visions in my eyes.

I hit the hotel and get some rest, reflecting on how much better this is than sleeping in a bag on the ground. Yes, I'm a child traveling alone, sleeping outdoors, staying in hotels...parenting was apparently a lot different back when "zero tolerance" wasn't a thing yet.

I decide to look around the town, slipping on some cool shades so I'll fit in better. Well, now I see why I'm allowed to travel alone at such a tender age. I'm a natural at fitting in and adapting to situations. Maybe next year South Sudan or the Ukraine. 

Visit beautiful Chernobyl! Also, everything you saw on the news is a lie. 

People watching ends when I literally become part of the mob, being told "it's time!" Good thing I've got that brilliant disguise. I'm hustled into the town hall just in time for the unveiling of something moving under a giant tarp. Yeah, this is not going to end well. What's in there is, of course, the Black Slime. It starts quivering and throwing out tentacles. "It's trying to tell us something!" declares the leader of the cult I managed to infiltrate via my careful attention to what's hot in the realm of eye covering.

Then I get splattered with a blast of dark muck, revealing me as an outsider and evil, evil non-believer. I'm given a choice to run or just sit there and let the crowd and sentient darkness have it's way with me. I run.

This reminds me of a quote Grandpa, for some reason. No, it's not "Son, if you're ever confronted by an alien horror that defies the generally accepted laws of biology and the insane human acolytes that worship it, hit the bricks." but is instead a pithy line about the need to "run like the dickens." Yup, that's an old person all right.

The regular cartoonist will be back next week, please stop sending in complaints.

This clever plan works, I wash the slime off, grab the bike and say goodbye to this town gone mad. Or do I? I'm given the option to try one of the other two plot lines. What is this, the Race Forever? How about "no."

You wouldn't know it from my run, but this book actually creates some pretty scary situations and has some disturbing illustrations that add to that mood. On the down side, it reads like three failed short stories shoe-horned into this format with mixed results. In the Uncle's house branch there's seventeen straight pages without a choice! Granted, these pages are packed with atmosphere and grotesque images, but it's not exactly interactive. This is this one's biggest failing, the limited agency. As far as bringing the bad dream petrol, it gets the job done easily.

  Sleep well, kids!

Check Out My Books!

Aaron Zehner is the author of "Posts from the Underground," now available in paperback and e-book. Read a free excerpt here.

His first novel The Foolchild Invention is also available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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